Networking can be difficult for anyone, but entering a noisy room full of strangers can be downright painful for shy people.
The situation can be even more difficult for those of us who come from a culture in which people customarily wait for a lull in the conversation before speaking, says Evelyn Chau, a communications training and transformation coach in Toronto.
"I learned early on that when there is a group of people talking, you have to wait for an opportunity to get into the crowd," says Chau, whose background is Chinese.
When a group of people in conversation have formed a circle, Chau says, she is faced with a challenge because her culture calls for a respectful reluctance to barge in.
"So, I am seen as shy because I am standing there, waiting politely for the group to let me in," she says. "After a while, I realized that people here don't do that. They show up with a big smile and join the group."
Chau says she teaches clients who are shy to be themselves in networking situations, but also to have a couple of strategies in their back pockets that can help these shy people as they move about the room.
Chau, who has worked with high- performance athletes, says many athletes take a few deep breaths to compose themselves and help themselves concentrate before taking part in their event. They often carry that method into their non- athletic lives.
"Take a deep breath to calm yourself," she suggests to those entering a networking meeting. "Rather than speaking in a quivering, small voice, you will have the breath support you need to project. And when you project, you sound confident and authoritative."
Chau often suggests to her financial-advisor clients and others that they think back to a situation in which they felt really good about themselves because of something they had accomplished. Then, she says, "Take a screen shot" of that feeling, and imagine walking into the networking situation. Remembering this good feeling often helps you feel at ease.
Two powerful networking tools that shy people often have in their quiet arsenal are an ability to observe and a natural curiosity, says Eileen Chadnick, certified life coach and principal of Big Cheese Coaching in Toronto. An ability to listen and ask questions can help you find common ground with new acquaintances.
"Even a small observation or question can spark a conversation," Chadnick says. This exchange can be an icebreaker conversation about the company at which the second person works, or even a chat about the fortunes of a local sports team.
Shy people may be concerned that they will get nervous and caught up in what they should and shouldn't say, Chadnick says: "So, shift part of that dialogue and get into a 'curious' mode, which, very often, quieter people who are shy are good at. You just have to turn on that curiosity."
Although some people are naturally good at chatting with newcomers, shy people should go into a networking situation with a plan, says Jenny Grajpel, a coach and trainer with Effectus Sales Training in Toronto.
Build up your comfort level by practising your "elevator speech" before friends and relatives, Grajpel says. And differentiate yourself by showing how you can help a potential client rather than just making a sale.
"We are all shy to a certain extent," Grajpel says. "There's a fear of rejection, of saying something stupid."
And shy people, like everyone else, need to fill in the gaps in their skills, says Grajpel: "Their [gaps] happen to be increasing their confidence level in themselves."
Shy people also should set a goal for themselves in advance, Grajpel says. Although other financial advisors may set targets of how many new leads they will generate during a networking event, shy people might start off by aiming to meet two or three people and having a good conversation with them. Instead of approaching a group, Chadnick suggests, try making conversation with one person. Fewer - but more meaningful - relationships can be more valuable than many superficial ones.
Chau agrees that practising elevator pitches and role-playing in front of an honest critic are good devices to use ahead of time. But what you say must be real: "Make sure it's from your heart and not something from a self-help book."
Other tips for overcoming shyness:
- Smile. People are more likely to warm up to someone who is smiling than to someone who looks angry or depressed.
- Say the person's name. When you address someone by name, he or she will feel more comfortable
- Pay attention to the way you speak. Make sure you sound natural. Be willing to make mistakes and be "in the moment."
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